Thousands of sheep storm downtown Madrid in annual livestock festival

October 2, 2017, 10:14 a.m.
sheep are herded through the center of Madrid for the annual migration festival
Photo: Dani Pozo/AFP/Getty Images

Every fall in Madrid, shepherds take their sheep out of their comfortable green pastures and parade them through the center of the city. As townspeople and tourists watch, the reluctant sheep head through town as part of the annual Fiesta de la Trashumancia, or Transhumance Festival.

The festival was started in 1994 to recognize the celebrated tradition of livestock migration, reports National Geographic. The tradition began thousands of years ago as an agricultural practice of moving a flock from one field to another to prevent overgrazing of pastures.

Before the sheep take to the streets, women in traditional Spanish mantilla veils and twirling skirts dance with men in wide pants, tucked-in long socks and wooden shoes. Musicians accompany them, gaily playing flutes and tambourines. They are sometimes followed by a trail of oxen and prancing horses before the main event — the sheep — arrive.

The wide-eyed animals clatter down the upscale streets, and when they reach the downtown square, the mayor ceremoniously greets them. As the bystanders cheer loudly, the usually calm animals are wide-eyed and skittish from all the commotion.

Some shepherds honor tradition by paying the town 25 maravedis (an ancient coin created in the 11th century) the payment that was created centuries ago as the cost for crossing the city, reports the Digital Journal.

"This is something beautiful, because it is a tradition of the Spanish people and serves to remind that we were migrating," said Jorge Jiménez, who was walking a donkey along the route during a recent festival.

"I think it is a very good idea, because it is something which you are not used to here in Madrid," said Manuela Pozuelo, after watching the parade with her children. "Especially people who do not have a habit of leaving the city to go to the villages."

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